Express & Star

Dan Morris: Bus stops and The Black Stuff

Some places have a deep and sentimental meaning to us. Barely an hour before putting pen to paper here, my betrothed and I drove past the spot where we first met – a dishevelled bus stop adjacent to a run-down chippy. The stuff of Shakespearean sonnets and heaving bodices, I'm sure you'll agree.

As he dabbed my tongue with the small spot of stout, my life was changed forever...

I'm not sure I've been back to the spot in almost 17 years, and if so, I certainly don't remember doing. Indeed, I never even caught a bus from there back in our school years, only approaching the sheltered bench in a not-so-casual manner so as to get chatting to the pretty brunette about to embark on a journey into town. 'Would that I'd sprung for a taxi,' I hear her mutter now. Fate plays funny games at times.

Since that fateful day, a lot of other places – some far-flung, some close to home – have become special to me. And most of these – true to form – have to do with the ample indulgence of my stomach.

The lamp post I leaned against while gorging on my first kebab. Bellissimo. A 'sidewalk' slab in New York's Battery Park, where I stood and downed my first jumbo salted pretzel. Game changer. And of course, my local branch of a certain well-known fried chicken emporium, the hallowed gates of which I stepped through as a boy, emerging half an hour later as a man. 25 years on, it is as sacred to me as a child's first teddy (which, incidentally, I do still possess. Long live Toastie).

My other half has sacred places that are sacred for far more traditionally sacred reasons. She always was the one with the soul, after all.

To her, family holiday haunts of years gone by will always hold a special place in her heart, along with former abodes, parks played in as a kid, duck ponds for daydreaming and ocean shores where dreams finally became reality.

In terms of a special place to me where a long-held dream came true, one in particular springs to mind...

I still remember the spot at which I sat when I experienced my first taste of Guinness. I was five, and said taste was nothing but a feeble lick of foam from my father's finger.

For months I had been enamoured with the velvety appearance of the dark liquid he ritually imbibed from a monstrously humongous pint pot every Sunday lunchtime, and was itching to ditch the squash and give it a go.

After weeks of pleading for a taste and being met with refusal, I perched up on the bench next to him, strapped on my best big-boy charm and asked coolly and politely if I could sample his tipple. Finally, and to my great surprise, he agreed – though, it has to be said, with a rather cunning and devilish look in his eye.

As he dabbed my tongue with the small spot of stout, my life was changed forever. It was horrid – I spat, and raced straight for a reach of my old faithful OJ.

My reaction, I suspect, was precisely what he had intended – hoping no doubt that the memory of the obnoxiously bitter taste on my young tongue would burn itself so deeply into my brain that I wouldn't be tempted by alcohol of any kind again until I was at least 80.

He's always been an optimist, bless him.

Alas, as I moved into adulthood years later, the taste of 'The Black Stuff' was to grow on me and many a pirate's party has been enjoyed on St Patrick's Day between the years of 2007 and now.

Still though, said bench where my father finally bowed to my wishes (though with his own dastardly design) remains a more special place then all the gin joints said revelry took place in years later. This was the spot where my dad first used his playfully powerful brain to try to teach me an important lesson – something he has done time and time again for three decades since. I've been lucky to have his sturdy hand and sharp wit guiding me – giving me enough slack to make my own choices and even mistakes, yet setting me on a relatively sturdy path and always being there to help with necessary course corrections on the way.

To put it simply folks, the man you see before you, is all his fault.

Cheers Pop – now get the barbecue lit, and fetch me a proper glass-full!

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